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As he passed under the dark loft opening, all the hairs on the back of his neck prickled and rose. He felt sure something was up there, watching him from the shadows – something that could close bedroom doors. 

Aufwader’s Thoughts:  The vivid sense of place which bombarded us last time continues into this chapter as Miss Boston and Jennet have their first real heart-to-heart on that draughty bench outside the Church of St Mary.

Many of us, myself included, loved the kindly, unflappable Aunt Alice from the moment we met her, but this scene cements her integrity further. Since the death of their parents, Jennet and her brother have been cast adrift in the world, and Ben’s supernatural power has only served to exacerbate their outcast status. I love and appreciate how Miss Boston seeks to bolster their flagging trust in adults by treating them with respect despite their youth, and getting them to engage with Whitby as if it were already their home.

Perhaps the most touching moment comes when Jennet nervously describes Ben’s ability to see ghosts, only to have Miss Boston breezily accept her every word and describe ‘the sight’ as a gift. There’s also lots of excellent foreshadowing with Miss Boston’s blood-curdling tales of the town’s history and legends – even the Barguest gets a look-in. I love the line, ‘Don’t pretend to be a vampire, Benjamin, you haven’t got the cloak for it’. Unlike every other prospective guardian the children have met, Miss Boston embraces the macabre and magical, which may turn out to be just what Jennet and Ben need.

One of the most prominent themes of this trilogy is the fantastic blended innocuously with the mundane, and this chapter demonstrates that perfectly. Talk of ghostly apparitions and Dracula merges seamlessly into the very 1990s BBC comedy of Miss Droon and her wayward cat, and then, before we can be lulled into a false sense of security, the sleeping, sinister secrets return with Ben’s foray into the old house. On reread I noticed how this ‘classic horror’ sequence, with its sudden door-slams and ominous attics, resembles a later scene in another, completely unrelated Robin Jarvis trilogy. I’ll have to sit on that for a while, however, so do put it to the back of your minds for the time being.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Miss Boston is such a fantastic creation. And for those who haven’t yet read Robin’s comments on this in his own website, she is a combo of author Lucy Boston, of the Green Knowe series and actress Margaret Rutherford who (among other things) was one of the first – perhaps the first – actress to portray Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple.

The scene in the graveyard is a beautifully paced ‘defrosting’, where the kids start to realise that maybe things won’t be so bad here in Whitby. (Unfortunately, I always get nervous any time somebody starts to get settled comfortably into somewhere in a Jarvis novel, because it means things are probably going to get very unsettled.)

I’ll be curious to see which other trilogy Aufwader is thinking of here. It makes me think of Dancing Jax which also opens in a decrepit two-story house, with a staircase leading upwards and – come to think of it – black mould. Urgh. Black mould.

Anyway, Ben found the cat and avoided the creepy thing in the attic, and Aunt Alice has cracked a slightly off-colour joke about cats. So enjoy this little moment of a chapter that ends quietly with everybody in a happy mood. The mood might not last forever …

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